Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Ugly" People Have Talent Too

Britain's Got Talent judges. They're the judgiest.

Almost 12 million people have viewed Susan Boyle on YouTube (up 6 million since I watched it yesterday afternoon). Susan is a sensation. She can sing. They've played her clip on the Today Show. She's got a quirky personality. And she's a little homely. For those of you who haven't seen it, Susan, a plump 47 year old cat lady virgin with beady eyes and bushy eyebrows, killed 'em on Britain's Got Talent. While her voice is quite nice as she belts out a classic from Les Mis, the real spectacle is what happens before and after her performance.

As Susan is interviewed by the show's wacky hosts, she's subtlety mocked but not even close to the level of the untalented uggies on American Idol, don't worry. She's awkward and odd, never performed in front of a large crowd before and one gets the feeling that the audience is prepared for the choke factor to come into play. They might even be hoping for it. How dare this unattractive woman pollute their senses in this way? Does this competition have no standards? Cut to teenager in bad makeup making snide comments to her friend after exaggerated eye roll.

She proclaims her age and intentions to be a professional singer. And after Simon Cowell and the other judges smirk and wince collectively she begins...I Dreamed a Dream. But, what's this! She can actually carry a tune. Her voice is strong, very Broadway. Wow, that is so incredibly amazing! Sandra's only 25 seconds into the song and the audience is on it's feet. The judges mouths collectively hang open. From this frumpy and lumpy middle aged woman, comes the voice of an angel.

"No one is laughing now...", "I'm reeling from shock...", "Everyone was against you...", "we were all being very cynical" - the judges admit their judging of the book by its cover*. While it's lovely that they come clean, the fact is it would have been OK for everyone to mean to Sandra simply for the fact that she does not look like women that are usually on stage singing (professional or amateur). But, this is Britain's Got Talent, not the schadenfreude mess of American Idol and they would have never let Sandra appear if she could not perform well.

I can't help but wonder if Susan were young, with perky parts and proper makeup, with a voice like that, would she really have caused such a stir? I don't think so. It would have been a "yes, you're on the next round, nice job, but you need to work on your attack." It's only when our prejudices are proven wrong that we rise to our feet in applause to divert attention from our icky presumptions. Now before Simon Cowell makes poor Susan go on The Zone diet, pluck her eyebrows and dye her hair in prep for her record deal - let us enjoy this triumph of the common woman and a big "F" you to those counted her out before they heard her sing.

*Simon Cowell actually jokes that he was not surprised at all.